Private Road Maintenance

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Roads in Lake County can have a variety of entities responsible. The primary highways, such as Routes 29, 53, 20, 281, and 175 are maintained by the State (Caltrans). Many other primary and secondary roads are maintained by governmental agencies such as the County, United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and several quasi-governmental agencies such as Special Districts. These roads generally have unrestricted public access, but may be seasonally restricted, such as with a locked gate. However, a greater total mileage of roads are privately maintained. Many of these "private" roads are truly private; there is no dedication of easement for public access. These are often referred to as "private-private" roads. Most, however, have some dedication that allows for access by the general public. They are referred to as "private-public" roads. Both types can be gated, but only the "private-private" roads can have permanent restricted or controlled access, such as with a locked gate. The California Civil Code requires the cost of maintenance for both types of privately maintained roads to be shared equitably by the landowners benefiting from those roads. Lacking a formal agreement between landowners, the Code requires an equal share contribution from each landowner. This is enforced through civil action, in other words by neighbor suing neighbor.

The County maintained road system consists of approximately 610 miles of County roads. The roads within the County system vary greatly in width, alignment and surface. Due to budgetary constraints, the County cannot always perform all of the maintenance that we would like to on roads within the existing County road system. The County road budget comes mainly from State gas tax revenues. Taking additional miles of road into the system does not increase our revenue commensurate with the cost of maintaining the additional road mileage. If the County were to take additional roads into the system, the maintenance of the existing County roads would have to be scaled back. Therefore, it has been the policy of the County Board of Supervisors not to take additional roads into the County road system, except in certain circumstances.

The least expensive way that privately maintained roads can be kept up is for the property owners served by the road to contribute their fair share to the annual maintenance of the road. This requires voluntary contributions from each road user which, unfortunately, are not always forthcoming. Sometimes a user of a private road will refuse to pay his or her share of the road maintenance. The other users of the road are then forced to sue the non-paying road user in order to collect a fair share of the road maintenance cost. Private maintenance requires volunteer effort and cooperation, and usually a binding agreement. An agreement that allows establishment of property lien rights for fee collection is important. Usually, a legal entity, such as a non-profit, road maintenance association, involving all affected property owners, is necessary. You should seek the advice of legal counsel before forming such an entity and for review of the maintenance agreement.

County Service Area/Zone of Benefit

The County Service Area (CSA) concept enables counties to provide a guaranteed level of services where requested by property owners. Lake County has adopted a "Countywide County Service Area". This allows any neighborhood within the County to establish a "Zone of Benefit" to obtain increased services to that neighborhood. Each of these Zones includes properties benefitted by the service rendered. The laws regulating the creation and operation of County Service Areas were enacted into law by the California State Legislature and are found in the California Government Code.

The level of service is usually one agreed upon by the affected property owners, with input by the Public Works Department staff to assure that a minimum of safety and liability requirements are met.

The level of service is determined by the revenue derived from a benefit assessment or special tax raised within the Zone of Benefit. A benefit assessment requires approval by a majority (51%) from the property owners within the Zone of Benefit boundaries and each is counted in proportion to the proposed assessment per parcel. A special tax requires approval by two-thirds of the individuals who are registered to vote within the Zone of Benefit boundaries.

Often, larger up-front costs are required to pay for improvements to bring the road surfaces (which may have declined from years of neglect) up to a maintainable standard, cover Zone formation costs and interim maintenance costs until the tax role assessments can be collected. The County is currently considering a means to loan these up-front costs to a Zone, with repayment of some of these costs over a number of years at the County's normal interest earnings rate (very reasonable rates compared with conventional financing).

Permanent Road Division

The Permanent Road Division (PRD) concept enables counties to provide a guaranteed level of services where requested by property owners. This allows any neighborhood within the County to establish a "Division" to obtain increased services to that neighborhood. Each of these divisions includes properties directly benefitted by the service rendered. The laws regulating the creation and operation of Permanent Road Divisions were enacted into law by the California State Legislature and are found in the California Streets and Highways Code.

The level of service is usually one agreed upon by the affected property owners, with input by the Public Works Department staff to assure that a minimum of safety and liability requirements are met.

The level of service in a PRD is determined by the revenue derived from a special tax raised within the Division. A special tax requires approval by two-thirds of the individuals who are registered to vote within the Division boundaries.

Often, larger up-front costs are required to pay for improvements to bring the road surfaces (which may have declined from years of neglect) up to a maintainable standard, cover Division formation costs and interim maintenance costs until the tax role taxes can be collected. The County is currently considering a means to loan these up-front costs to a Division, with repayment of some of these costs over a number of years at the County's normal interest earnings rate (very reasonable rates compared with conventional financing).

One advantage would be that your road would be maintained on a regular, scheduled basis. This can help prevent the need for more costly repairs to the road and can also save on automobile repairs. Another advantage is that every property owner within the Zone of Benefit or Permanent Road Division must pay their share. If you are paying your share of the maintenance of your road and your neighbor is not, you are certainly paying more for road maintenance than you would have to if everybody paid. The assessment or special tax for the Zone of Benefit or Permanent Road Division is added to the property tax bills of everyone within the Zone of Division. All arrangements for the maintenance work are made by County staff from a list of qualified local contractors or on a reimbursement basis for County maintenance crews.

The single disadvantage is an increase in cost. Under the Zone of Benefit or Permanent Road Division program, a portion of the road maintenance assessment or special tax is used to pay County staff for the administration of the Zone or Division. Once a Zone or Division is established this cost runs about 10% per year of the total annual assessment or special tax. A fairly large initial cost is involved in the formation of the Zone for the Zone or Division mapping and filing fees required by the State Board of Equalization. Another added cost is incurred because the County maintenance is paying "prevailing wage" (Union scale). Since most contractors do not usually pay their workers prevailing wage, private persons or private road maintenance associations can usually hire a contractor at a lower rate than the County can. The increase in cost to property owners who pay their share may be partially or completely offset by the County's ability to insure that all property owners within a Zone or Division pay their share in cases where some owners do not make voluntary contributions to the road maintenance.

The staff of the Public Works Department is happy to help. There is no charge for initial consultations and/or meetings. Please give us a call at (707) 263-2341 or 994-4824 to set up an appointment. It is usually more productive it we meet with most of the entire group of home owners concerned, rather than meeting with each owner separately.